I’m all for people increasing their net worth and improving their financial abundance. I also never saw the various minimum-wage jobs I held as my last job. Most of us had after-school or summer jobs; I had part-time work after school and summer jobs from the age of 11, babysitting, to fund my wardrobe and later to fund church and school trips.
I had a part-time job in high school because I needed a car, and then I had a full-time and two part-time jobs to put myself through college at night. I had no financial support from my parents and chose not to amass student loan debt. These were jobs that paid my bills, allowed me financial independence and fit in around what I was doing to prepare myself for my better, higher-paying jobs.
These jobs also better prepared me for life in the work world and opened up new opportunities through the people I met in the workplace. Obviously some of my co-workers advanced in these minimum-wage, stepping-stone jobs and earned positions within management and made a choice to stay with the original company or a progress to similar one. The word I believe important to note is the word, “choice.”
America offers each of us the same choices and opportunities to improve our lives and enhance our individual prosperity and potentially the prosperity of others. It is not an employer or a company offering a minimum-wage job that is the enemy we are seeing portrayed in recent media coverage of this issue.
American companies that offer minimum-wage paying jobs are the backbone of the American dream — the very thing that sets America apart and allows for the freedom of entrepreneurship and individual prosperity. It is each of us who have the right and responsibility to make a choice everyday.
Definitely, we see obstacles to making the best choices thrown in front of us daily — the ease of government assistance programs, meant to be stop-gap measures but more easily become lifestyle support systems, disabilities and difficulties that are a part of the human condition, challenges common to all people. Few of us are born to wealthy parents and embark on our lives with trust funds to finance our dreams. But I believe there is no other country on the planet that has done more to equal the playing field of choice and opportunity than America.
Witness the millions who have come here for centuries and continue to flow into America from around the world to better their lives and the lives of their families. Individuals just like us, from all walks of life, see America as the hope of freedom and opportunity. How can we, as free-born citizens of such a magnificent home of unlimited opportunity, complain that we are entitled to more than we are willing to earn?
For some perspective on the issue of what a minimum-wage job is worth or the value of a “living wage” I did a little research: A private in our United States Army makes a base annual salary of $18,194. This is right around minimum-wage (do the math for yourself), and I would be willing to bet his daily job consists of something a bit more critical than flipping a burger.
Let’s ask not what wage we believe we deserve. Rather, what value we are willing to give in exchange for that wage? What are we willing to do as some of the most fortunate people on earth to take responsibility for our own choices? If you don’t like your current job or it’s wage, what are you willing to do to educate and arm yourself with the skills necessary to be a greater value to an employer? A wage is an opportunity to be earned, not an entitlement.
Cynthia Fisher Embden is director of chapter outreach for the Informed Women’s Network.